I am a creator. I enjoy creating things for no other purpose than the joy of creation. I love creating things within a rules framework -- characters I'll never play, monsters no one will ever fight, spells nobody will ever cast. I do this when I'm stressed. When my wife was in the hospital, I invented an entire specialized form of abjuration inspired by Aikido. When I was sick recently, I invented a D&D superhero game. Ethan Gilsdorf, author of "Of Dice and Men," put this experience put into words:
I got the pendulum right for one of the same reasons I play D&D in the first place. The prime mover in a nerd brain is the need to understand how things are put together. My mood-regulating neurotransmitters do the tango when I find a way to impose order on chaos. Biochemically, it’s no different than the pleasure a jock gets sinking a free throw. Every rule, every chart, every geeky statistic in a game book or module feeds into this impulse. All those details allow us to take apart existence, look at the individual parts, figure out how they work, and put them back together. Some people relieve stress by getting drunk or high and losing control; nerds find comfort by taking control and applying structure. Logic is like a warm blanket.
This, for me and for Ethan, is "flow": Flow (psychology) - Wikipedia
In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.
Why do role-playing games create flow? Because they’re limitless. Dr. Richard Forest summarizes the beauty of role-playing games thusly in the reprint of Oracle Magazine:
D&D is not in the books. It is at the game table. It is in our scribbled notes. It is in our maps, in our jokes, in our daydreams during dull classes or meetings, in our forum posts from work, in our blogs and tweets and zines...The game itself is built to support its own extension. Ability scores. Races. Character classes. Equipment. Spells. Monsters. Magic items. Random encounters. Dungeons. Categories of things that fit together, loosely. Not too well. Not completely. Not entirely. Open-ended categories that can be filled with new things. Dungeons & Dragons is never finished. Want more Ability Scores? Add new ones. New character classes? The blueprint is there. New spells? New monsters? New magic items? Yes. New dungeons. You can’t play the game without creating something new. Dungeons & Dragons is a machine for generating more Dungeons & Dragons, and once you pick it up and start playing it, it’s yours. Which is the basis of the entire hobby.
That is why I play role-playing games.
Like this answer? Join us on Patreon for just $1/month; follow me on Facebook, Google+, Linkedin, Pinterest, Twitter, and the web; buy my books: The Evolution of Fantasy Role-Playing Games, The Well of Stars, and Awfully Familiar. Thanks for reading!